tv [untitled] October 17, 2011 3:00pm-3:30pm PDT
and that late afternoon sadness rolls in like the luminous california fog crossing over the hills. and some part of me is convinced that i might never have really felt joy. and yet, there's a mythical quality to the garlic mustard, the afternoon, the angle of light that fills me with a peculiar heart-breaking beauty. and i wonder, as i often do, if things will ever be simple. the train sounds down by the river, the cloud passes over the sun, and what could be memories feel like deja vu... like they happened under water a long time ago.
i had this poetry teacher once... he said that any good poem has to have a balance of elements that are beautiful and elements that are dark and acrid, and difficult. and he called it the lilies and urine principle. in the darkest and most abject of places, there is still beauty, and the idea that beauty is not something that arises from everything being perfect and symmetrical and orderly and straight.
beauty is the thing that manages to grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, and manages to struggle out between the buildings and between the barbed wire. my earliest sense of being aware of a world much bigger than my six-year-old reality came from books. and i lived and breathed and ate those books. and i was acutely sensitive to the themes of loss and change and suffering. i remember when i was six years old writing a poem about the golden years are passing by in the winds that whistle. i had this real sense that nothing lasts, and a real sadness about that. a real sense of wanting, wanting everything to be golden and stay golden, and it didn't work like that.
and i was also very sensitive to the land around me, and i grew up in a region that was rapidly being developed, and where what used to be horse fields and meadows were being turned into strip malls and condominiums, and corporate headquarters. just watching the rape of this land, feeling like there were forces at play that were so much bigger than anything i could control. at a very young age, i started to really lose interest in a lot of the strappings of popular culture. all these messages about the kind of person i was supposed to be. the world around me was way more interesting than a television show. and what everybody talked about on the bus to school was movies and celebrities, and i just didn't care. i wanted to talk about love and loss and life, and the meaning of human existence, and spirit, and unity, and freedom...
and that was just not what 12 year olds were talking about. i grew up in a really dysfunctional, neglectful, and pretty abusive, alcoholic family, and i was not supposed to talk to anyone about what happened in my house. the kids at school wanted to talk about "grease," and what i was thinking about was the horrendous way i was being treated by my mother, and how desperately i hoped for some kind of free life. i was pretty malnourished as a kid 'cause i was allowed to eat whatever i wanted and no one took care of me, and so i didn't grow, and so i looked like i was eight and i lost all my friends. and then i would go home and nobody would talk to me, and my mom would be like falling apart on the floor, passing out after drinking a bottle of wine... yelling and screaming, and my entire reality
was dismantling itself. i wanted to get out of my body and out of my life so badly, and i just started to have this feeling that probably one day i was really going to go crazy. i went to a prestigious private university and at the time, i was taking a class on the origin of life in the universe and got totally convinced that if i could teach every high school student in america that their bodies were made out of molecules that were born in the supernova's of stars 15 billion years ago, then we would all understand that we are all the same and there would be no injustice and no inequality and we would stop treating each other so badly. and so, i had gone through a period of just total expansion
and incredible energy, and so much insight, but insight at a level where i couldn't really connect with other people. your brain takes off into this level of cosmic and cerebral connections, but your heart isn't working quite right. you can connect 50,000 ideas, but you can't listen to your friend talk about her relationship. and so, i went through a period, which they would say is mania. all mental energy, and connections and divine expanses of space and time and no grounding on the earth. and then i crashed, really badly, and a lot of it for me was mixed up with drugs and alcohol.
i slipped into such a state of total and utter depression and despair that i didn't know what day it was, i didn't shower, i didn't change my clothes. i didn't really eat, i stopped going to school, stopped doing work, stopped going outside, stopped talking to people. every time i'd try to watch the television, i was convinced the world was ending, and i would run out of the room screaming, and shake, and hide in the corner. when i started to interface with the mental health profession and be given diagnoses and medications to contain that fire inside of me, it both felt like a huge relief and like it had the power to extinguish that fire, which was terrifying. no one ever told me before i started taking
zyprexa or lithium, that if i stopped it, i would have severe withdrawal and psychotic symptoms. but it actually turns out that a lot of these medications, when you stop taking them, trigger in you the withdrawal symptoms that look like the craziness. a lot of people get put on meds at one point in their life, and then when they try to go off them, they're like, "oh my god, i really am insane."
there's this fundamental impulse either toward suppressing our traumas by medicating the symptoms of them away, or "facing down our traumas," by delving straight into the teeth of whatever our childhood beasts are. there's not a lot of focus on what is in the middle, what does it mean to acknowledge the way that the past has been a formative thing in our lives, without reliving the past over and over. mental illness does not exist in a vacuum;
saying that it is nothing but a biological brain disorder lets everybody off the hook... and makes it this situation where it's just the individual versus his or her inevitable biological madness. i think that a lot of people who get labeled as mentally ill in our society have really broken hearts. a lot of the behaviors and the attitudes that i had before i got locked up in a psych ward and given a diagnosis, had a lot more to do with trying to escape from my sadness, than i think they necessarily had to do with a mental illness. if i was determined to live my life in a city and to work a really intensive steady job in an office,
i think i would have to take medication to do that. but i don't think that fact means that i have a disease. it means that it would take a pharmaceutical substance to override my instincts, to make me capable of fitting into a system that was not designed for someone with a spirit like mine. i'm just really sensitive and my moods shift in ways that i don't really keep a rhythm that fits with the clock of capitalist society. i'm learning more to listen to my own rhythms, particularly as they pertain to things like seasons, and light. and it's unreasonable to think that you should be able to be performing the same every day... in a world that's constantly changing. there would be a lot less "mental illness" in our society
if people were given spaces to work through emotions like anger and grief, instead of denying them and suppressing them, if we had a language of compassion. if you can listen to people when they're going through crisis, not tell them what to do, but actually listen. it's not necessarily the moment right then to untangle "why" and to put a label on it and to fix it. it's more a space to hold someone so that they can go through the process and come out the other side. we need to stop saying, "you are crazy, stop being crazy." we need to stop putting all the focus in treatment on how can we make you stop being the person you are?